Behind the Seams with the Mother’s Choice Quilt Block

Three quilts featuring the Mother's Best Quilt Block.

Quilt Mosaic. Dove at the Windows. Fringed Square…

This quilt block turns up under different names in different places, but the name that rings most true—at least, for me in the lovely month of May, with Mother’s Day approaching—is Mother’s Choice.

The basic Mother’s Choice quilt block is a classic pattern that you often see under other names.

The basic Mother’s Choice quilt block is a classic pattern that you often see under other names.

I haven’t been able to hunt down the origins of that particular name, though I’ve wondered if there’s a link to the biblical tale of Jacob and Esau, how their mother Rebekah favored her younger son, Jacob.

Maybe it’s named Mother’s Choice because the block itself presents many choices—choices for construction and color placement, for framing a fussy-cut print or playing with size.

In the May/June 2019 issue of Love of Quilting, we present three quilt projects that showcase the range of choice offered by this remarkable block. Because of the fabric choices made by each designer, the techniques used to make the block change, as do the results.

Triangle-Squares + Pre-Cuts

Providence, by Jen Daly, features four 9” Mother’s Choice quilt blocks, to create a lovely, bright wall hanging.

Scrappy and cheerful, Jen Daly’s Providence maximizes the fabric collection by using triangle-squares.

Scrappy and cheerful, Jen Daly’s Providence maximizes the fabric collection by using triangle-squares.

The fabrics Jen selected are traditional-looking, jewel-toned prints. Showcased against a cream print background, the scrappy collection is cheerful while feeling homespun. The secret behind that scrappy-but-cohesive look is that Jen worked with a collection of pre-cut collection 5” squares.

Generally, a package of 5” squares, sometimes called a charm pack, will feature 40 or so pieces. The packages typically include all the fabrics found in a particular collection, so—because a collection rarely has 40 prints—you often get duplicates or even triplicates of prints.

Jen used this to her advantage when designing her Mother’s Choice quilt block.

Providence features 28 triangle-squares per block.

Providence features 28 triangle-squares per block.

By using the 8-at-a-Time Triangle-Squares method, she could get the exact number of triangle-square pairs needed to build cohesion into her block pattern. The “darts” within each block are identical and the “frame” could be built using two colors. In the end, each block features 28 triangle-squares.

Eliminating Seams with Flying Geese

In Table Manners, Natalie Crabtree worked with three summery prints in her quilt blocks.

Table Manners, by Natalie Crabtree, is the ultimate picnic table topper!

Table Manners, by Natalie Crabtree, is the ultimate picnic table topper!

Her table runner—just perfect for a picnic table, we’ve got to say—features three 12” blocks made from a white solid, a red print, and a blue print. Both the “darts” and the “frame” feature alternating red and blue patches in all three blocks, which are identical except for the center square.

Table Manners uses 20 triangle-squares in its construction, eliminating seams with Flying Geese units.

Table Manners uses 20 triangle-squares in its construction, eliminating seams with Flying Geese units.

Interestingly, because Natalie only used two colors apart from her background, she could build her quilt block using both triangle-squares and Flying Geese units. Triangle-squares are one of the most versatile units in patchwork, but by using Flying Geese units to flank the center square, Natalie was able to eliminate a few seams. She has a total of 20 triangle-squares in each block.

Color Placement is the Cornerstone

Reed Johnson’s quilt, Mother’s Best, features sixteen 12” blocks, which bloom in rich, lovely batiks.

Color placement and technique make these blocks bloom in Reed Johnson’s Mother’s Best.

Color placement and technique make these blocks bloom in Reed Johnson’s Mother’s Best.

The way he designed his block maximizes the rich color and value of those batiks by repeating the color in the center square in the “frame” and in the “darts.”

But there’s more to it than that.

Instead of triangle-squares kissing the corners of his center square, Reed dropped in solid squares—a cornerstone, in effect. And instead of triangle-squares framing the center square, he doubled up on Flying Geese. Each quilt block incorporates just 8 triangle-squares.

Mother’s Best features 8 triangle-squares, and 2 sets of Flying Geese units.

Mother’s Best features 8 triangle-squares and 2 sets of Flying Geese units.

The design choices were partly influenced by another technique: die-cutting. Reed was able to use dies from an 8” AccuQuilt QUBE to cut his patches, which influenced the sizes he picked and the methods he used.

The Choices We Make

It’s fascinating to know how and why these blocks were constructed as they were. Jen’s Providence uses many triangles squares in order to take full advantage of her pre-cut 5” squares. Because of her fabric choices, Natalie could eliminate extra seams from Table Manners. And Reed’s choice to die-cut influenced his construction, and ultimately his color choices, in Mother’s Best.

All these quilt projects prove that the different choices we make lead to uniquely lovely paths.

Happy quilting, and happy Mother’s day!

Vanessa Lyman

 

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